Kenya: Meru Hospice on the Verge of Closure as Funding From Donors Runs Dry

(file photo).

The fate of more than 500 cancer patients in need of palliative care is hanging on the balance as the Meru Hospice has run out of funds.

The hospice, which helps vulnerable patients manage pain through provision of morphine, counselling, food, clothes and cancer management is running on empty - a situation that has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

With up to 80 per cent of cancer patients in the country often diagnosed at advanced stages and others unable to bear the high cost of treatment, palliative care becomes their only refuge.

According to Meru Hospice Coordinator Gladys Mucee, the facility relies on well-wishers, especially students and shoppers as well as non-governmental organisations to buy drugs, facilitate home visits and pay its workers.

FUNDING SCALED DOWN

Corporates which also fund the hospice have scaled down their expenditure as the Covid-19 pandemic takes a toll on the world economy.

Due to the prohibitive cost of morphine and legal barriers on its sale, most patients turn to the hospice to access the drug for severe pain management.

"Many of the well-wishers are experiencing hard economic times leading to a decline in donations. The donation containers we place at supermarkets and wholesale shops have also not filled up for the last three months as shoppers decline while others use mobile money, reducing the handling of cash.

"We also rely on schools and colleges for fundraisers but they are closed. If no money comes our way this month, it will be difficult to operate," Ms Mucee says.

MONEY FOR A MONTH ONLY

She says the palliative care centre may close doors at the end of June as it is left with money to last one month for taking care of 492 patients under its programme.

One patient takes up more than Sh8,000 due to the high cost of pain management drugs and special diet while others need stoma bags, artificial breasts and clothes.

"If we run out of money, this means the patients have to bear the excruciating pain of cancer. We will not be able to facilitate some to go for treatment as we do. We cannot provide food and vital counselling services for the terminally ill," she says.

NUMBERS SOAR

Ms Mucee notes that the number of patients seeking their services has gone up while those who were undergoing treatment in Nairobi have missed out on appointments due to Covid-19.

Ms Winfred Mukami's two-year-old son, who was diagnosed with cancer of the retina at nine months, has been undergoing treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital until Covid-19 containment measures cut off travel to the city.

Ms Mukami missed an appointment in March and is now relying on the Meru Hospice, a palliative care centre, for drugs.

"I was to take my son to Kenyatta Hospital but after the government restricted movement to Nairobi I cannot make it. I usually left Meru at 2am so as to arrive at Kenyatta Hospital by 8am on time to see the oncologist.

"With the curfew in place, I cannot make it on time and I do not have anywhere to spend the night in Nairobi. I am now relying on Meru Hospice to take care of my son," Ms Mukami said.

LIFE UNBEARABLE

Mr Douglas Mwirigi, who has been suffering from pancreatic cancer since 2016, says Covid-19 has made life more unbearable as resources run out.

He is also banking on the Meru Hospice to lighten the burden of buying some of the drugs needed to make life bearable.

The hospice coordinator has called on well-wishers and the government to support the facility to enable it remain afloat.

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